The motive for setting up looms stemmed from his own childhood struggles. Gopinathan was the seventh among ten children in a backward weaver’s family. It was poverty all around. "I discontinued studies in the sixth standard, left home and toured South India, learning from master weavers. Back home, I knew weaving was the sole option though many looms had started folding up, unable to face stiff competition from the power looms," he recalls.
But he knew the quality of cotton, use of natural dyes, fresh designs, dexterity of weaving and the demand in the ’70s for ethnic clothes were all loaded in favour of hand-woven fabrics.
Gopinathan was clever in choosing women for his enterprise. They always stood by him and never struck work for a wage hike, he says. "All these are my children," he points to the woman weavers, who weave the Malayali’s favourite mundu (dhoti), traditional Kerala saris and bed spreads.
Today each weaver earns an average of Rs 125 a day. Says J. Vijayambika, president of the Twinkle Mahila Samajam, one of the cooperatives Gopinathan helped float: "Had it not been for the Master’s (that’s how Gopinathan is referred to) spirit of enterprise, we would all be poor housewives." Vijayambika earns more than her husband, a tailor. Padmavati, another beneficiary, says she was able to marry off her daughter recently because the 27 mahila samajams presented her Rs 20,000. "Such family needs are our collective concern," says Ambika Devi, secretary of the Viswa Mahila Samajam.
Gopinathan also runs the Gandhi Smaraka Technical School for SC/ST girls, teaching them tailoring and embroidery. But he is looking forward to help from the state government to set up a general school for imparting training in weaving.
Contact Njarakkal Mukalil Veedu, Manjavila PO, Dhanuvachapuram (via), Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala—695503